Logan looked up from his contemplation of the scarred Formica, whole narratives hidden in the scratches and stains adorning its marred and scarified surface, and saw the waitress. Their eyes met and he held her gaze unflinchingly, transgressing several unwritten social protocols in the process and just as obviously not caring. He could tell by her scent that she was interested in him, and for more than the amount he might tip, and he had nothing else demanding his attention at that moment.
For her part, she didn't look away either, flirting right back at him. He raised his cigarette to his lips, drew in a lungfull of smoke, and blew it out through his nose, taking his time about responding.
"Absolutely, darlin'," he said with a hint of a smile about the corners of his mouth, holding out his cup. "Fill it up. Join me if you like; don't seem like you're exactly rushed off your feet here." He indicated the rest of the diner which, with the exception of a gentleman in late-middle age wearing a baseball cap and engrossed in (what was, presumably) his breakfast in a booth in the far corner, was all-but deserted. Giving him a coy smile and a shrug, she sat down opposite him.
"You got a name, cowboy?" she asked, indicating with her eyes the hat on the seat beside him.
"Logan," he responded. "Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Sophie."
"How'd you know my name?" she demanded, curious.
"It's right there on your uniform," he said, leaning over and tapping her name badge with his fingernail in a familiar and intimate gesture.
"Oh. You got a second name, or just Logan?"
"Just Logan," he confirmed.
"Man of mystery?" she enquired, smiling.
"Oh, yeah." He returned her smile, mocking himself, eyes crinkling at the corners. Took another drag on his cigarette. "In fact, I'm so damn mysterious even *I* don't know all about me." She grinned at what she supposed was his self-deprecation, never supposing for an instant that he was telling the literal truth.
"So, what brings you here?" she asked. "Business or pleasure?"
"Well, darlin', up 'til this moment it was business, but meetin' you's just made it a whole lot more pleasurable." She smiled, flattered despite the obvious and unsubtle flirtation, but her smile faded as a pair of arms was draped around Logan's neck.
"You go round flirtin' with the first pretty girl t'come along the moment Ah turn my back to powder my nose, Ah'm liable t'get jealous, sugar." The voice cooed in his ear, low and sultry, and not without an element of flirtation itself. Logan looked Sophie directly in the eye, brushing aside a few stray wisps of auburn hair which were tickling his cheek, and said
"Sophie, I'd like you to meet Rogue. Sophie an' me were just havin' a nice conversation, Rogue."
"I was just keeping your seat warm," Sophie said, rising with an embarrassed smile aimed at the young woman draped around Logan's neck, a white stripe standing out starkly against the auburn of her hair.
"An' Ah surely do appreciate it," Rogue replied with a smile which appeared to be warm, and certainly touched her eyes, but Sophie wasn't getting in the middle of anything. She filled Logan's cup, though Rogue declined the offer, and departed for the kitchen. Rogue took the seat Sophie had so recently vacated. Logan took another drag on his cigarette, taking it down to the filter, and ground it to a smoky end in the ashtray on the tabletop before him. He leaned back, blew a couple of smoke rings in Rogue's general direction and then looked straight at her.
"I think I was gettin' somewhere there, girl, before you scared her away," he said with mock reproach.
"In your dreams, old man," she responded with a smile that mingled derision and affection. "Now finish that coffee, 'cause Ah don't wanna keep the Professor waitin'. He's due in at seven an' we promised to be there to meet him. After all," she added, her smile fading, "who knows when we're gonna see him again?"
"You worryin' about Chuck leavin'?"
"You're not?" she shot back.
"Wise man once said 'Change is growth an' growth, life.' Xavier's fulfillin' an obligation, doin' what he thinks is right. Can't argue with that."
"Is it right, Logan?" Rogue challenged him. "Seems like, with all that's been happenin' recently, an' the shitstorm it seems is always just around the corner, now's when we need the Professor most. Kitty's pretty upset about it, y'know? Takin' it personally, like he's runnin' out on us."
"Way he looks at it, the Skrulls need him more'n we do. From Chuck, in his own way, that's pretty high praise. I remember years ago, before you joined the team, he came back from a stint in Shi'ar space an' pissed a number of people off, me especially, by treatin' us like kids who couldn't function as a team without his guidance. Wanted us to be the good little soldiers his original team'd been, an' didn't like it that we'd become a team in our own right while he'd been gone. Look at it like that, he's sayin' we can be trusted to take care of ourselves, carry on the dream an' fight the good fight without the need for him to hold our hand.
"But no, to answer your question, I ain't lookin' forward to him goin'. We've been through a lot recently, an' it's taken its toll. Losin' Scott was rough on everyone, an' on him almost as much as Jean. Although we've come close on more occasions than any of us'd care to remember, John Proudstar was the last X-Man t'die on his watch ('cept Phoenix, of course, but I ain't gettin' into *that* one), an' Xavier feels responsible. Like Jean said, Scott came out of retirement because Xavier asked him to, an' now he's dead because of it. There's a storm comin', an' I'd as soon face whatever's around the corner with Xavier as without him. But that ain't an option we got. So we play the hand we're dealt. Speakin' of Xavier," he said, changing the subject and draining his coffee cup, "we better haul ass or we will be late."
Settling his hat on his head, he rose and deposited a number of bills on the table. On the way out of the door, he caught Sophie's eye and winked, and then turned his attention to the task at hand.
As the car doors slammed, Logan leaned back and fished around in his pockets, coming up with a crumpled pack of cigarettes and a Zippo. He lit up as Rogue turned the key in the ignition. She emitted a barely audible sigh (which he, of course, heard perfectly and completely ignored) but said nothing. She'd long ago resigned herself to the fact that getting him to open a window when he smoked in the car was all the concession she -or anyone else- was going to get out of him. Sure enough, as they pulled away the window on his side descended with a purr.
"How you an' the Cajun doin' at the moment?" Logan enquired, never one to beat about the bush.
"Damned if Ah know," replied Rogue with a sigh. "Durin' that little psycho-drama the Professor put us through" -Logan nodded: he'd been told- "Ah told him it'd never have worked anyway an' that maybe we should both just admit that, an' we've not really discussed it since. So Ah guess we're split up. If we were ever together in the first place. Ah don't know. It was pretty messed up most of the time anyway, an' Ah didn't know where Ah stood, so Ah guess there ain't that much difference anyway. B'sides, Marrow seems t'have a thing for him.... Anyway," she said, changing the subject and making it clear that she'd said all she intended to for the moment, a choice Logan respected, "how're you holdin' up? You recovered from bein' a Horseman of Apocalypse?"
"Well, I can't say it left me completely unchanged," he allowed sardonically. There was a 'snikt' sound as he popped his claws, the three blades protruding almost obscenely from the back of his hand, gleaming in the early morning sunshine as he turned his hand this way and that, studying the most obvious outward manifestation of the change Apocalypse had wrought.
"Feels...strange. But familiar, *right*, at the same time. Y'know, not that I ever asked for or wanted it in the first place, but when I lost the Adamantium I adapted, I made adjustments an' life went on, but it took me a long time before I got used to the idea. Couldn't sleep right for months afterward. Whole body felt different. 'Course, even though I knew up here," he tapped the side of his head, "that it was the loss of a weight that'd been part of me for the longest time, it just felt wrong. An' now I've got to get used to it feelin' right again.
"Which ain't to say I'm happy about what that son of a bitch did to me, fuckin' with my head like that, but I'm doin' okay." He retracted his claws. "I'm more worried about Jean, especially with Xavier leavin'. Once we've picked him up an' dropped him at the mansion, I'm gonna check her out."
"Ah thought we agreed to leave her alone for a while," Rogue pointed out.
"Nope. Chuck decided an' no-one disagreed with him. Jean may well want to be left alone right now, but that's somethin' I intend to find out for myself, no matter what Xavier thinks."
"Warren's gonna think you're makin' a move," teased Rogue, regretting it immediately, aware of how inappropriate a thing it had been to say. Logan's eyes narrowed.
"Warren can kiss my ass," he replied flatly. "Jean don't need protectin' from me, an' I don't need him questionin' my intentions toward her. An' if Warren's got anythin' to say about it, he can say it to my face."
Rogue said nothing, aware she'd touched a nerve and fearing that anything she said might further exacerbate the situation. While Logan and Warren had reached a sort of rapprochement during the whole Apocalypse affair, being turned into Apocalypse's Horseman Death their common ground, but there were years of bad feeling and harsh words between them yet to be overcome. From the moment they had met, the two of them had rarely seen eye to eye, and the principal bone of contention between them had always been Jean. Over the years, that mutual antagonism had become the basis of their relationship.
Not that Warren had ever had any concerns about Jean, of course; he'd seen her relationship with Scott blossom and grow, but right from the start something about Logan had rubbed him the wrong way and he'd never quite trusted him. Apart from anything else, he'd never considered Logan good enough for Jean, and had made no secret of the fact.
The rest of the journey to JFK was taken up by talk of less consequential matters, the mutual but unspoken accord between them being that there would be more than enough time for weightier discussions in the days ahead. Xavier had chosen to visit Muir Island to make his farewells to Dr. Moira MacTaggart in the conventional way, travelling on commercial planes rather than in the more convenient and efficient Blackbird. If he was soon to be leaving Earth with the Skrulls, he reasoned, he should take the opportunity to be part of that world rather than distancing himself from it. It was, after all, uncertain when (or even if) he would have the chance again.
In the event, his flight was an hour and a half late, an irony which escaped neither Logan nor Rogue.
"Guess the Professor should've taken the Blackbird after all," Rogue observed with a smile.
"Nope," replied Logan. "Chuck did the right thing. Might be the last chance he gets for a while an' besides, recently we seem to be spendin' more time off-planet than on, or in alternate dimensions, riskin' our lives against whoever wants a shot at rulin' or destroyin' the universe this week. Menaces most folks never heard of an' don't care about. An' how much time do we actually spend in the real world? We get so caught up in bein' X-Men an' savin' the planet from the latest threat, we forget how to be people. What's the point of savin' the world if we never take the time to be a part of it?" Rogue had to concede the logic of his argument, although it did nothing to assuage her restlessness while they waited for Xavier finally to arrive.
The journey back to 1407, Greymalkin Lane was a sombre one, the conversation desultory and the most activity occurring either end when it was necessary to load and unload Xavier's baggage and wheelchair. He had foregone his hover chair in favour of a more traditional model which would attract less unwelcome attention. His return to the mansion was met with warmth and enthusiasm, but underlying it all was the knowledge of his imminent departure, a fait accompli with which the X-Men had been presented.
Once Xavier was unloaded, Logan made his way to the Blackbird's hanger. It was overdue for some routine maintenance, and Logan felt the need to accomplish something tangible, and the desire for it to be a solitary endeavour. He was, therefore, not entirely pleased when his sensitive hearing picked up the sound of approaching footsteps, and even less so when he caught the scent. Turning his attention from the Blackbird he wiped his hands on a rag, succeeding not so much in removing any oil from his hands as spreading it more evenly.
"What can I do for you?" he asked, his tone level, betraying none of the irritation he felt at the interruption, despite the fact that he'd not been at it long enough to be in the middle of anything important. Warren Worthington III raised his head to meet Logan's gaze, his hands in his pockets, the tension in his stance betraying his unease, although Logan needed no body language to let him know that: Warren's scent told him all he needed.
"I thought we needed to talk, Logan," he said in a level tone, but with a definite hint of challenge present. The light breeze toyed with the feathers of his wings, ruffling them slightly.
"An' what would you like to talk about, *Warren*?" The emphasis was just short of insulting.
"Jean." And with one word the mood turned from conversational, insofar as it ever had been, to confrontational.
"What about Jean?" Logan giving him no opening, not openly hostile but definitely not encouraging further conversation. Warren continued.
"I hear you're planning on going to see her."
"Yup." Acknowledgement, nothing more. Warren sighed. Logan wasn't going to meet him halfway on this, it was clear, or make it any easier than he'd expected.
"Let's stop beating around the bush: Jean's very vulnerable and confused right now, and I think it's best we leave her alone. Let her tell us when she's ready to see us."
"Fine. You can leave her be."
"Logan, I'm telling you, don't bother her."
"You threatenin' me?"
"If I have to. Look, Logan, Jean made her choice and in case it escaped your attention she chose Scott. You were...."
"Never good enough for her, yeah, I know. She's too good for the likes of me, right?"
"Frankly, yes," retorted Warren, beginning to get angry.
"Fuck you," was Logan's succinct response. "You think, just 'cause you were born with a silver spoon up your ass, that makes you better'n me? That it gives you the right to judge me? Lemme tell you somethin', bub: I agree that Jeanie's a class act, but what makes her so ain't the fact that she'd fit right in at one of your society functions. Class ain't got nothin' to do with table manners. Jeanie's class because she'd never try to make a body feel small, or embarrass 'em just because they didn't talk right. An' I may not know shit about fine wines, you stuck up bastard, but maybe that's because I spend my time carin' about what's really important an' not wastin' it on superficial bullshit.
"To set your mind at ease, asshole, an' not that the way I feel about Jean is any of your goddamn business, but I got no intention of tryin' to step into Cyke's shoes while they're still warm. He was my friend as well as yours an' whatever you may believe about me, Warren, I do understand the concept of loyalty an' I got too much respect for Scott's memory an' too much regard for Jean's feelings ever to try that shit, especially now. I got integrity. I'm a man, not an animal, an' I certainly don't need some spoiled rich kid tellin' me how to behave. I know you only came here out of concern for Jean, which is why you an' me're still talkin'. But I got no need to explain or justify myself to you, an' if you ever try an' lecture me again, or treat me with the disrespect you just did, I will fuckin' end you, bub. Am I understood? You've said your piece. Now fuck off, 'cause I got work to do an' you're gettin' in the way."
He turned away, back to the Blackbird, the conversation clearly over. Warren stood there for a moment, torn between the impulse to try again to talk to Logan and another, more natural, impulse to have as little to do with the shorter man as possible. He chose the latter option. With a sound somewhere between a sigh and a snort, Warren spread his wings and with a couple of strokes was airborne, heading back to the mansion.
The shower was spacious, designed with Warren's wingspan in mind. Flapping his wings, Warren succeeded in transferring most of the droplets from his feathers to the tiles and glass, where they hit like a hard rain and almost immediately began their inevitable descent toward the drain. He stood there for a moment, wings outstretched, watching the beads of water merge and the resulting rivulets flow down the glass, his mind free of anything so encumberingly coherent as a thought. Snapping out of it, he ran his fingers through his hair, slicking it back against his scalp, and slid open the door in order to go in search of a towel.
He emerged from the bathroom to find Elizabeth Braddock curled up in a plush armchair, apparently engrossed in a book. He stood there for a moment just looking at her. Even dressed in a baggy sweater several sizes too big, absently playing with a lock of her deep purple hair, she had an unconscious elegance for which many people would gladly kill. Aware of his presence, she raised her head from her book to regard him, her gaze frankly appraising. Her eyes travelled over his body, taking in the still-damp hair, blond in contrast to his blue skin, the powerful, majestic wings and the excellent muscle tone.
For much of his life until the loss of his wings, Warren had been used to being beautiful and regarded as such, as much an angel for his face as for the wings that had sprouted from his back at puberty. Becoming one of Apocalypse's Horsemen and the concomitant physical transformation that Apocalypse had wrought upon him -metal wings, baldness and blue skin- had had a profound affect on Warren's self-image, to make no mention of the bitterness he'd harboured for so long afterward. He blamed Apocalypse for the wings' apparent life of their own and the constant battle he fought to keep them in check. His friends, the original team of X-Men (at that point in time X-Factor) had welcomed him back and given him time and understanding although eventually his self-pity and anger had elicited comment even from Jean, traditionally the most compassionate and patient of his friends.
"Apocalypse only gave you the tools with which to destroy your life, Warren," she'd told him in the Alley, the Morlock tunnels underneath New York where the Marauders had injured him so badly that the surgeons had been forced to amputate his wings. "He provided the instruments of pain and suffering. You're the one responsible for wielding them. I don't think I'm telling you anything you haven't suspected for a while. You don't suffer from a 'blood lust'. You're responsible for every act you commit. Apocalypse took one night away. What you do with the rest of your life is up to you." Harsh words, but true, and Jean was one of the few people who could tell him these things.
Nevertheless, although he grew to accept his new wings as a fact of life he was overjoyed when he discovered that his original, natural wings had grown back. The wings Apocalypse had given him were weapons grafted onto his back: the feathered appendages were a part of him and the power of flight was so much sweeter when her could feel the passage of the wind over each individual feather. He felt whole again, thanks in no small part to Betsy, who confided in him that she rather liked the hue of his skin as it went quite nicely with his hair.
"Feel better?" she asked. He nodded, stretching. "Want to tell me what all that was about? Not that I didn't appreciate your...enthusiasm earlier, but there's obviously something bothering you."
"Wolverine." One word, infused with all the frustration of their most recent encounter, fuelled by the history between them.
"Ah." Before the loss of her telepathy (a fair trade, she rationalised, in return for keeping the Shadow King imprisoned on the astral plane and unable to do any more harm) Betsy would not have needed to resort to waiting for Warren to open up to her by creating a silence he'd feel compelled to fill. Although she didn't regret the sacrifice she'd made, she did miss the ability terribly. For one who'd been a telepath almost as long as she could remember being 'mind-blind' was not an easy condition to bear, especially as it was self-imposed.
"I just can't talk to him, Betsy. I go in there with the best of intentions but as soon as we start to speak it turns into an argument. I just can't find any common ground. Honestly, I don't understand what you see in him. You've obviously got some kind of bond, but I don't understand it at all"
"What did you say to him?"
"I just went there to talk to him about Jean. Wolverine's always had feelings for her, and for some reason she responds to him. It's just that with Scott dead and out of the way, I'm afraid he's going to make a move. And I can't stand by and watch that happen."
"And so you went to warn him off. Warren," she said in exasperation, closing her book and placing it on the table beside her chair, "I love you dearly but sometimes you can be the most blind, arrogant and infuriating man ever. Logan's twice your age at least. How did you think he was going to react to being told off, especially by you? He's not a child and I doubt he appreciated a lecture on how to behave around Jean. They're both adults, Warren, and while I realise you're only looking out for Jean, their relationship really isn't any of your business.
"So you're taking his side."
"It's not about sides. And to respond to your earlier point, my relationship with Logan has certain similarities to Jean's. There's a certain...primal quality to both of us, something basic and predatory, although it's closer to the surface in me than in Jean. Scott accepted that but Logan *understands* it. That understanding isn't a threat to my relationship with you, or a challenge to the validity or depth of Jean's love for Scott, any more than your friendship with Hank -or Jean, for that matter," she said pointedly, "is a threat to what we have. I realise you don't know Logan very well, probably as much through choice as anything else, but trust me on this: he would never dishonour Scott's memory or insult Jean's feelings by attempting anything inappropriate, especially now."
"He said much the same thing to me earlier," Warren admitted. "That and threatened to gut me like a fish," he added sourly.
"Well what the hell do you expect?" Betsy snapped. "For fuck's sake, Warren, you don't insult a man like Logan, challenge him on something so basic and important to him as his honour, and expect him to thank you for your dazzling insight and for pointing out the error of his ways. You're lucky he didn't go for your throat there and then. Sometimes, your insensitivity can be astounding. I can think of very few people who could get away with questioning Logan like that and, much though I love you, you are not one of them." She unfolded herself and got up, walking over to him and placing her palm gently on his cheek. She could feel as much as see the tension in his muscles. "You as much as accused him of thinking with his penis and, given who you both are and the nature of your relationship, I think he acted with remarkable restraint." Gradually, the tension melted from Warren's frame as he grudgingly accepted the wisdom of her words.
"So you think I owe him an apology," he responded.
"That's up to you. You're a big boy, Warren, and how you order your life is your choice and your responsibility. But if you ever want any kind of relationship with Logan beyond low-key hostility, even if it's just for my sake and Jean's, don't go in there like you're better than he is, like you're doing him a favour by coming down to his level. I know that you don't really like him, and that the feeling's mutual, but maybe you just got off on the wrong foot and you've both let it dictate the nature of your relationship ever since. I don't know if he'd accept the hand of friendship from you or not, but would it hurt to try?"
"Every so often," responded Warren, "I'm reminded of why I love you. You're right. I'll try." Betsy smiled and kissed him lightly.
"I'd get dressed first," she said with a conspiratorial wrinkle of her nose.
Logan was still in the Blackbird's hangar when Warren found him, components from the plane strewn around in an order that made sense, in all likelihood, to no one but Logan. Although Logan detected his approach long before Warren actually arrived, he chose not to acknowledge the other man's presence. He was alone by choice and Warren was the last person he wanted to disturb his solitude. Warren was about to speak when Logan pre-empted him, addressing him without ever taking his eyes from what he was doing.
"I wanted company, I'd've let you know. An' frankly, you're the last person I expected to see. You come back to give me another lecture?"
"Actually, no. I came to apologise for earlier." That got Logan's attention. He raised his head.
"Is that a fact?" he asked in a level tone, more pro-forma response than question.
"I thought about it," continued Warren, obviously uncomfortable, "well, actually, I talked to Betsy about it, and I was out of line. Look, Logan, I know we're not exactly the best of friends and we're more used to arguing than talking, but I didn't mean to insult you earlier. But can you understand that I was only acting out of concern for Jean?"
"Jean's an adult, an' perfectly capable of speakin' for herself. If there was a problem, if I crossed the line, don't you think she'd be the first one to say somethin' to me? She doesn't need you watchin' out for her, Warren, especially not on my account. Look, I love Jean. Always have. Probably always will, an' I make no apology for the fact. An' maybe, if Scott hadn't been in the picture, she an' I might've had a shot. But like you said, she's in love with him, an' the fact that he's dead don't change that. Both of 'em mean too much to me for me even to try to fuck with that or try to take his place. So now we've got that straight, let's not have this conversation again."
"So we're okay?"
"Nope. There's a lot of harsh words an' bad blood between us an' it's gonna take a hell of a lot more than one conversation to put that right. But this here's a good start. An' if you can get down off your high horse an' bring yourself to apologise to me, then maybe I'm wrong about you. Maybe whatever good an' worthwhile qualities Jeanie an' Betts see in you really are there, an' not just the product of wishful thinkin' on their part. Maybe you ain't such an arrogant prick as I always thought. So apology accepted."
"Was that almost a backhanded compliment, somewhere in there?" Warren asked with a wry smile.
"Could be," Logan responded, a slight crinkling around the eyes as close as he was going to get to a smile right then. It was enough for Warren.
"Am I crazy, Logan?"
Jean was hunched forward her hands clasped around a steaming mug of coffee. Logan, too, had one. Not his usual drink of choice, but Jean had offered and since she obviously felt the need to be a good hostess he had no objection to playing the role of guest in her home.
"You're askin' the wrong guy, darlin'," he responded with a fond half-smile, "unless you're workin' on the basis that it takes one to know one."
"I don't know what to think," Jean admitted, closing her eyes while telekinetically flipping on the lights and closing the drapes as it was beginning to get dark. "Most of the time I accept that Scott's gone, but every so often I'm sure that I felt him. No matter what Charles or Nathan or anyone says, that I felt him. I don't think it's denial. God knows I want to believe, but am I just deluding myself? I was so sure that I felt him, but Charles thinks Apocalypse was just manipulating me. And I don't know what to think."
"I wasn't there, Jeanie, so I don't know what went down. I heard it all second-hand, but from what I heard, it sounded pretty conclusive. But Cable an' Chuck, even if he is wearin' his Most Powerful Telepath On The Planet badge, they don't have your bond with Scott, an' I trust few people the way I trust you. You say you felt somethin', I believe you."
"But what did I feel? Is Charles right? Was it just Apocalypse? Am I just fooling myself because it's easier than dealing with the truth, that my husband is dead?"
"Long as I've known you, Jeanie, you've never been one to lie to yourself. I'm not gonna claim to know how you feel, but I do understand. When I..." he paused, searching for the word, "lost Mariko, it hurt worse than anythin' I can remember, even losin' you. Or Phoenix. Or whoever the fuck it was. Point bein', I know what I'm talkin' about. But you're dealin' with the uncertainty of not knowin' whether what you felt was genuine or just Apocalypse fuckin' with your head, an' I got no easy answers for you there. All I can say with any certainty is that I'm here for you. You want to be left alone, like everyone else seems to think, I'll do that an' respect your decision. But you don't have to be alone. You want me, for anythin', anytime, you just let me know an' I will be here."
"I do appreciate that, Logan, and I'm glad you came," she said, reaching over and squeezing his hand. "But I'm not ready to come back, to face everyone yet. I really don't know what I'm going to do. For so long the X-Men were our lives, and any plans I had after that involved Scott. We'd only just managed to make the break, to think about building a life for ourselves that didn't involve saving the world, and now Scott's gone.
"I was so angry at first, and I needed someone to blame, so I lashed out at Charles, blaming him for asking Scott to come out of retirement. But the truth is that we both came back. Charles didn't make us do anything we didn't want to, and what happened isn't his fault. But I can't come back to the team, Logan. Not yet. For all that it's been such a big part of my life, it's also the reason there's a cold, empty space beside me at night where my husband used to be. It's the reason I instinctively reach out to Scott's mind when I wake up and find there's nothing there. It's the reason," she continued, her voice rising, "that nothing in my fucking life means anything!" The mug left her hand trailing a stream of coffee and shattered against the wall. It was a measure of Jean's self-control, control she'd had to develop from adolescence, that she'd thrown the mug physically and not resorted to telekinesis; given her power, she could easily tear the house apart. She fell to her knees.
"Nothing matters any more, Logan," she sobbed, tears flowing freely from her eyes and running unheeded down her cheeks. "I go through the motions, but it's all just physical. I go on with my life, at least the practicalities of it, but none of it has any meaning. This is why I left. I don't want the others to see me like this. Everyone sees me as being so strong, and I don't want to let them down, I don't want to let Scott down." Logan, by this point, had reached her and was holding her tightly, and she readily surrendered to his embrace.
"Listen to me, darlin'," he said with a gentleness which would have surprised anyone who'd ever faced him in battle. "Anyone who knows you knows that you were everythin' to Scott. For him, the sun rose an' set with you. An' he was never anythin' but proud of you. I don't think anyone could've loved you more than that man, an' the last thing he'd ever want is for you to be embarrassed for bein' human. As far as the others go, ain't a body among 'em would feel let down by seein' you like this. Everyone thinks you're strong because you are, but part of bein' strong is knowin' when to ask for help. Took me a long time to learn that lesson, an' you were one of the people to teach me.
"I can appreciate the need for time alone to sort out your head, but any one of your friends would come runnin' if they thought you wanted company or needed 'em. We may be X-Men, but we're also your friends, an' just because you call on any one of us doesn't mean anyone's gonna think you're ready to come back to the team. You ain't alone, darlin', an' not because you're part of the team, but because you're part of the family. There's a lot of people at Xavier's who love you, Jean, an' we stand by you, no matter what. We'll give you all the space you need, but you just say the word an' we'll be here. Don't you ever doubt that."
It was uncertain whether Jean heard everything Logan said that evening, but what was important was not so much the words as their meaning, which was a message she understood perfectly. Neither of them knew how long they sat there on the floor, arms wrapped tight around each other, or at what point Jean drifted off to sleep, exhausted both physically and emotionally. Unwilling to have Jean wake up alone, after putting her to bed Logan made himself comfortable on the couch and the following morning, in an unexpectedly domesticated gesture, let her sleep late before waking her with breakfast.
When he pulled away from Jean's house that morning, it was with a sense of hope, a rare and precious commodity in the X-Men's world. There was a storm coming. Everyone, at one level or another, whether they acknowledged it or not, felt that, yet they remained. Scott, in so many ways one of the linchpins of the team, was lost to them, yet they endured. Respite was occasional and fleeting, and all the more precious because of it and Logan felt, as the wind flowed through his hair and for no reason he could readily articulate and certainly not justify, a cautious optimism. Perhaps it was merely appreciation at seeing the start of another day and knowing he had eased Jean's pain, if only a little, if only for a while. Maybe it was only the calm before what was, some would argue, the inevitable storm.
Whatever, Logan would take it.
As the dust and leaves whipped up by the passage of Logan's Harley fell and began to settle, they were picked up again by a more natural wind, animating them in an intricate dance, the secrets of its choreography known only to the elements. A prelude to the approaching storm.
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